Research Shows Cannabis and MDMA Effective in PTSD Treatment
“It’s a war within yourself that never goes away” – Anonymous
More and more people are turning to alternative medicine in the hopes of finding solutions to conditions that they suffer from, like PTSD. Over recent years, cannabis has been medically approved in 37 states and approved for recreational use in 17 states. As cannabis becomes more available to the masses, many people are beginning to explore all that this medicinal plant has to offer.
Truth be told, cannabis had been used as a natural healing plant medicine for 1000s of years, and another drug, MDMA, was introduced for therapeutic use in Western medicine in the late '70s, but both were eventually outlawed by the U.S. federal government and added to the Schedule 1 list of controlled substances. Ironically enough, though cannabis remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the federal government owns the patent on non-psychoactive cannabinoids and other plant compounds as a medicine, Patent # 6630507B1.
The existence of this government-owned patent raises some questions. A Schedule 1 controlled substance is defined as having no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse. Why would cannabis remain an illegal substance according to the federal government when many states have approved it for medical use – and when the U.S. itself holds the patent on these compounds as medicine? These questions remain a mystery and something we won’t be able to clarify today, nor likely in the near future.
In an effort to help you explore options outside the western paradigm and remove the stigma surrounding these alternatives, we’re looking at PTSD, its symptoms, and current treatment options; examining the use of cannabis as a safe and effective treatment option for people suffering from PTSD; and exploring the groundbreaking clinical trials highlighting the success of MDMA-assisted therapy to help those suffering with severe and chronic PTSD.
What Is PTSD?
PTSD, short for post-traumatic stress disorder, is a condition that many people suffer from who have been victim or witness to a traumatic event, for example, combat, sexual assault, physical violence, natural disaster, terrorism, a car accident, drug overdose, etc. According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, PTSD affects 3.6% of the U.S. adult population—about 9 million individuals—and about 37% of those diagnosed with PTSD are classified as having severe symptoms. It is also noted that women are significantly more likely to experience PTSD than men and according to NAMI, about 10 of every 100 women (or 10%) develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 men (or 4%).
According to most medical outlets specializing in PTSD treatment, the most common PTSD symptoms include:
- Intrusive memories/thoughts - Re-experiencing behaviors, in the form of flashbacks and nightmares;
- Arousal and Reactivity - Changes in physical and emotional reactions, being easily startled;
- Cognitive and mood symptoms - Negative changes in thinking or thoughts of oneself; trouble recalling the trauma; feelings of numbness, guilt, blame, worry, or depression;
- Avoidance - Avoiding places, people, or thoughts that trigger a memory of the trauma
The intensity of these symptoms varies from patient to patient and can range from a minor inconvenience to debilitating.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD, one of the best PTSD treatment options currently available in the U.S. is Trauma-Focused Psychotherapy. While this type of therapy is an integral part of healing and working through trauma, this alone doesn’t always work for individuals suffering from severe and chronic PTSD, bringing the need for medication as well.
Currently, the only medications FDA-approved for PTSD that can be used in conjunction with Trauma-Focused Psychotherapy are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), the most common ones being, Sertraline (Zoloft), Paroxetine (Paxil), Fluoxetine (Prozac), and Venlafaxine (Effexor). Unfortunately, these FDA-approved drugs don’t work for many suffering from PTSD.
According to a systematic review published in 2010, it was found that SSRIs are associated with an overall response rate of approximately 60% in patients with PTSD, with only 20% to 30% of patients achieving complete remission.
So, where does that leave individuals who receive no relief from current FDA-approved treatment options and medications for PTSD?
What Does the Research Say About Cannabis And PTSD?
In a recent study conducted by researchers at Washington State University and The University of Pennsylvania, published by the Journal of Affective Disorders, it was found that cannabis provides temporary relief from PTSD-related symptoms, although there isn’t enough evidence to show that it helps alleviate PTSD symptoms long-term.
This study was conducted using Strainprint, a medical cannabis data collection platform that allows users to document and journal their symptom severity before and after cannabis use with the change in symptom level referred to as the efficacy of the product, by analyzing the medicating sessions of 404 medical cannabis users who self-identified with having PTSD. The entries totaled 11,797 times over 31 months for PTSD-related symptoms (intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, irritability, and/or anxiety), measuring the symptom level from 1-10 immediately before and after cannabis inhalation.
The study showed that ALL symptoms were reduced more than 50% immediately following cannabis use. The study goes on to say that PTSD may be linked to deficiencies in the endocannabinoid system, a complex system that runs through every human and complex animal. The endocannabinoid system, ECS for short, plays a major role in the regulation of everyday human functions such as sleep, appetite, mood, immunity, digestion, pain, inflammation, learning, memory, and many more.
The results of the study revealed that, on average, respondents self-identifying as having PTSD reported a 62% reduction in the severity of intrusive thoughts, a 51% reduction in flashbacks, a 67% reduction in irritability, and a 57% reduction in the severity of anxiety, from before to after inhaling cannabis. Essentially, the results of this study provide us with strong evidence that cannabis is successful at providing temporary relief of PTSD symptoms, but may not be a long-term solution for PTSD treatment.
Another recent groundbreaking clinical trial shows similar results. The first ever controlled clinical trial of cannabis was conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and published and reviewed by Plos One in March 2021. It found that cannabis raises no safety concerns, but more research is necessary to determine efficacy for PTSD symptoms. The trial studied four different potencies (High THC, High CBD, equal THC:CBD, and placebo) of inhaled cannabis in 76 Veterans suffering from PTSD. The study concluded that all participants showed good tolerability and improved PTSD symptoms during the 3 weeks of treatment, but more research is needed to determine the true efficacy of cannabis for use in treatment of PTSD symptoms.
Due to the growing acceptability of medical marijuana and the 30+ states it is legalized for medical or recreational use, and the growing research around alternative medicine, cannabis is seen as a viable option in relieving PTSD symptoms. Once that decision has been made, many are unsure of where to start, and unanswered questions remain, like what cannabis strains may be best at quelling PTSD symptoms. To help those who are exploring cannabis as a viable option, MÜV has partnered with Strainprint to assist patients in their journey.
Cannabis Strains That May Help With PTSD Symptoms
In addition to its use in research on cannabis, Strainprint lends powerful insights to those that use it. The efficacy of products tracked is shared anonymously in the Strainprint app to help others with similar symptoms find products that may benefit their own symptom management, and that data is utilized even further by MÜV in perfecting the products and strains we carry.
The following cannabis strains have been found to alleviate symptoms associated with PTSD by MÜV Patients via Strainprint (percentages show efficacy, calculated by the change in symptom level before and after medicating, for treating the corresponding symptom)*:
- Clementine - 62% anxiety; 58% stress
- Pootie Tang - 47% anxiety; 57% stress
- Strawberry Cough - 56% anxiety; 43% stress
- Zour Apples - 48% anxiety; 43% stress
- Cherry Punch - 61% anxiety; 60% stress
- Modified Grapes - 57% anxiety; 57% stress
- Orangeade - 54% anxiety; 49% stress
- Black Fire - 59% anxiety; 70% stress
- Guru - 52% anxiety; 56% stress
- Ice Cream Cake - 58% anxiety; 54% stress
- Slurricane - 60% anxiety; 58% stress
- Triangle Kush - anxiety 57%; stress 61%
- Velvet Glove - anxiety 61%; stress 65%
*Data reported by MÜV Patients via Strainprint
Interestingly, cannabis is not the only alternative medicine making headlines in PTSD treatment.
What Does The Future Of PTSD Treatment Look Like?
Over the past few years, MAPS has made headway in groundbreaking MDMA-assisted psychotherapy and recently completed Phase 3 Trial Clinical Trials of MDMA-Assisted Therapy for PTSD. Simply put, the results are ASTOUNDING! While a peer-reviewed paper detailing these results is still underway and expected to be written by Nature Medicine, the trials showed strong evidence that MDMA is an effective and cost-saving treatment option for those suffering from PTSD.
90 patients who had been suffering from severe and chronic PTSD for an average of 14 years from traumas related to combat, accidents, abuse, and sexual assault were studied. Following 3 MDMA-assisted therapy treatments, a whopping 67% of participants in the study no longer qualified for a diagnosis of PTSD and 88% of participants received a clinically meaningful reduction in PTSD symptoms following treatment. The phase 3 trials that were recently completed also replicated the results of the previous phase 2 trials.
In light of the groundbreaking research and clinical trials that are being conducted, people suffering from PTSD may see a glimmer of hope on the horizon as many have suffered without successful PTSD treatment options for far too long. The data shows cannabis is safe and effective at treating short-term PTSD symptoms and new ground-breaking research shows MDMA can be a successful treatment option when combined with psychotherapy for those suffering from severe and chronic PTSD. Although this article is not meant to condone the use of federally illegal substances, it is meant to raise questions surrounding the current scheduling of many controlled substances.
Hopefully the information provided here helps to remove the stigma surrounding these non-FDA approved medicines and provides you with enough information to continue exploring alternatives to western medicine on your healing journey. Always be sure to discuss with your physician prior to adding or removing anything from your medical routine.
*This post was originally published on September 25, 2021, and updated on July 6, 2023, with new images.
Content Manager for MÜV Florida and Contributor for Zen Leaf Dispensaries. A cannabis connoisseur with a passion for explaining the miraculous possibility of the plant, Swan began her journey with cannabis as a recreational user and quickly realized its positive impact on her depression and severe anxiety. She joined the cannabis industry as Receptionist and MedTender and witnessed first-hand the immense potential of the plant for a wide variety of ailments, deepening her passion for alternative medicine. Swan is dedicated to self-education on the plant and sharing its potential with all. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Iowa.